Tina Turner was a fearless LGBTQ+ ally – long before it was popular to be one

Tina Turner inspired and stood with the queer community long before other artists. (Getty/DENIZE alain)

The LGBTQ+ community is remembering rock ‘n’ roll legend Tina Turner as an unflinching queer ally and major inspiration following her death.

The “Proud Mary” singer died “peacefully” at her home in Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday (24 May) aged 83, following a long illness.

Turner is best remembered for reclaiming her career and life after two decades of working with her abusive husband Ike, and becoming one of rock and roll’s most energetic performers in the years that followed their separation. 

With solo hits including “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and “The Best”, Turner secured 12 Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, seven Billboard Awards and a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Though her story of overcoming adversity was in itself a source of inspiration for the queer community, Tina Turner also proved her affinity with LGBTQ+ people with real action. 

Tina Turner with silver wings.
Tina Turner’s impact on drag queens around the globe is unavoidable. (Getty/Harry Langdon)

While the likes of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper are routinely recognised for standing firmly in the LGBTQ+ community’s corner during the ’80s, when other celebrities turned their heads, Tina Turner was up there with them, making her support for the community known.

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In 1982, the “Typical Male” singer led the opening ceremony at the first ever Gay Games, hosted in San Francisco, when other artists wouldn’t. The games marked a new chapter for LGBTQ+ athletes and sports stars globally, and Turner was there to see the community through it.

Almost 20 years later, in 2000, she pledged her support once again, voicing her thoughts on the “wonderful thing” that was same-sex marriage in an interview with queer publication The Advocate.

Turner spoke up 13 years before gay marriage was legalised in the UK, 15 years before it was recognised in the US, and many years before other music legends would lend their support, too.

Her electric, commanding stage presence and ability to play up the Tina Turner persona – she was born Anna Mae Bullock, and, when speaking to designer Bob Mackie about her musical comeback, said she “wanted to look like a sexy cave woman” – has inspired generations of queer people to explore their own identities.

And then there’s the drag queens. In addition to “Proud Mary” finding its way onto every Pride playlist ever created, you’d struggle to find a drag queen who hasn’t performed the number at some point in their career.

Even the queen of drag nodded to the queen of rock and roll. In RuPaul’s Netflix series AJ and the Queen, Ru makes a rare on-stage appearance, lip-syncing to the song in a fringed yellow bodysuit.

It’s unsurprising to see drag performers in their hundreds sharing tributes on how Tina Turner changed their drag careers and their lives. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 queen Tina Burner posted a heartfelt message on their Instagram about how Turner taught them “never to give up on what you love”.

“Words will never be able to express what this incredible human means to me,” the 42-year-old drag artist wrote. “I am a performer because of them. From a very young age, as far back as I remember, my mother and I used to sign and dance to all things Tina Turner. I knew I wanted to be just like them when I grew up.”

Drag Race UK star Vinegar Strokes shared in an Instagram post how she had “channelled [Tina Turner] throughout my whole career”.

“Everything creative, every character I’ve played, every gig I’ve done, every drag outfit or wig that I’ve worn, every song I perform – I always put a little bit of Tina Turner in there,” Vinegar wrote.

Drag Race season nine star Peppermint shared how she had been “inspired deeply” by the rock legend. 

“I have been touched and inspired so deeply by Tina Turner and her artistry and her tenacity and her womanhood and her Blackness and her innovative spirit and her determination and her perseverance,” Peppermint wrote.

“We are suffering a great loss, even those who may be unaware of her impact and legact. Rest Queen.”

LGBTQ+ icons across the world of entertainment continue to share their memories of and deep admiration for the star, with Beyoncé, Elton John, Janelle Monáe and the Pet Shop Boys leading tributes.

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